Uganda's parliament approved the Anti-Homosexuality Bill on Friday in the capital, Kampala. When the bill was first introduced in 2009 it was called the 'Kill the Gays Bill' because it punished certain acts of homosexuality with execution
. The death penalty provision was removed following international outrage, but the current bill still calls for life imprisonment for gay sex involving HIV-positive individuals, acts with minors and the disabled, and for repeated 'offenses' involving consenting adults.
A person who "conducts a marriage ceremony" for a same-sex couple faces seven years behind bars under the bill, and it also criminalizes failure to report homosexual acts to authorities, and calls for five-year prison terms for medical professionals who treat gays, landlords who rent them property and even individuals suspected of being gay.
"Promoting" homosexuality is also a crime under the bill, an 'offense' which reportedly covers acts as innocuous as providing HIV counseling.
Parliamentary Speaker Rebecca Kadaga called the shocking bill a "Christmas gift" to Ugandans.
Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda under colonial-era laws against "crimes against nature." But David Bahati, a devout Christian and the member of Uganda's parliament responsible for the 'Kill the Gays' bill and its current incarnation, has argued that stricter anti-gay laws are needed to protect Uganda from the damaging influence of Western liberalism.
"This is a piece of legislation that is needed in this country to protect the traditional family here in Africa," Bahati said.
Bahati is a member of "The Family,"
also known as "The Fellowship," a secretive and powerful U.S.-based evangelical sect that has been sending money and missionaries to African nations, including Uganda, to promote anti-gay public sentiment and legislation. According to Ralph Stone
of the San Francisco-based Fog City Journal, "the Family and other anti-gay groups have long viewed Uganda as a laboratory to experiment with Christian theocracy."
"Protecting children" is a common theme used by anti-gay Ugandan political and Christian leaders to justify violence against gays, even though there is no evidence of gay criminals targeting children in the country at a higher rate than heterosexual child predators. Still, Bahati claims the new bill is necessary to "defend our culture and defend the future of our children."
NPR reports the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was written with the help of U.S. evangelical Christians
with "close ties" to the Ugandan lawmakers who are pushing for its passage. Chief among these Americans is Scott Lively, a Massachusetts-based evangelical facing a U.S. lawsuit
filed by Ugandan gays under the Alien Tort Statute, which allows foreigners to sue in U.S. courts for human rights violations committed abroad.
"There are those factions of the evangelical community in the U.S. that believe they've more or less lost the fight against the homosexual agenda," Malika Zouhali Worrall, co-director of a documentary film called "Call Me Kuchu"
(queer), told NPR. "Therefore, they're trying to pre-empt it in other countries."
Ross Murray, director of news at the U.S. LGBT advocacy group Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)
the Washington Post
that the Ugandan bill is "one of the worst human rights violations of our time." Murray blamed U.S. evangelical leaders for "creating this travesty of injustice."
"It is now up to fair-minded Americans to speak up for the very lives of LGBT people in Uganda," Murray told the Post
U.S. President Barack Obama has condemned the bill as "odious."
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who has spoken disparagingly of LGBT people in the past, must sign the measure within 30 days if it is to become law.
Meanwhile, LGBT Ugandans, who have often been the targets of deadly violence
and who must live their lives in the shadows, expressed their fears and concerns about their fates should the new bill become law.
The bill's passage marks "a truly terrifying day for human rights in Uganda," said Kampala gay rights activist Frank Mugisha. "It will open a new era of fear and persecution. If this law is signed by President Museveni, I'd be thrown in jail for life and in all likelihood killed."